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Prosecutors to probe Madrid regional leader master’s degree scandal

Popular Party’s Cristina Cifuentes says she will not resign despite courts now investigating document forgery claims

Caso Cifuentes
Madrid regional leader Cristina Cifuentes. EFE

The scandal engulfing Madrid regional premier Cristina Cifuentes has moved from the political arena to the realm of the judiciary.

Prosecutors are now investigating claims of document forgery in connection with a master’s degree in public law which Cifuentes obtained from King Juan Carlos University (URJC) in 2012. In Spain, forgery of public records is a criminal offense entailing three to six years of prison time.

I have no intention of resigning

Madrid regional leader Cristina Cifuentes

After initially denying any irregularities, the university has now decided to hand over its own internal investigation to the public prosecutor’s office. Simultaneously, several student associations have filed a complaint over the case.

The university’s decision comes after a professor told the internal investigating committee that she never signed a document confirming that Cifuentes successfully defended her thesis. This document, issued by the URJC Public Law Institute and showing three signatures, was displayed by the regional premier to prove to the opposition that her degree was lawfully obtained.

Earlier this week, online daily El Confidencial reported that at least two of the signatures were forged, according to handwriting experts. This outlet has also reported that university president Javier Ramos pressured the head of the URJC Public Law Institute to quickly produce a document backing Cifuentes’ degree. This conversation allegedly took place on March 21, right after the scandal broke.

Enrique Alvarez Conde, director of the master's program that Cifuentes enrolled in.
Enrique Alvarez Conde, director of the master's program that Cifuentes enrolled in.

On that day, another online daily, eldiario.es, reported that Cifuentes never completed the coursework and that someone had altered her transcript to change her grades. Since then, it has emerged that Cifuentes never attended class or took exams with the other students, but came to different arrangements with instructors. Her final thesis has yet to emerge, but pressed by the opposition, the regional leader produced a document with three signatures from the examining committee members.

The head of the public university, Javier Ramos, is due to hold a press conference on Friday to provide new explanations about a case that is threatening Cifuentes’ political career and casting a new shadow over a higher learning institution where a previous president was forced to resign following accusations of plagiarism.

A reconstruction

Speaking on the radio station Onda Cero on Friday, Enrique Álvarez Conde, director of the master’s program at the IRJC Public Law Institute, said that the document was “a reconstruction in legal terms, but never a falsification.”

“The university president asked me for the work and I said I didn’t have it because the rules say they must be destroyed after two years. ‘We need a document, it needs to be reconstructed,’ he told me,” added ‘Alvarez Conde. “I tried to reconstruct a hypothetical record [of the thesis defense], which we sent him that afternoon.”

Álvarez added that he had “never spoken with the student [Cifuentes]” and that he only saw her once during the year-long program. “I did correct [her thesis] on several occasions. I figure it was 50 to 60 pages long. But I did not see the final version.”

The director said he has been subjected to “strong pressure” in recent days and is prepared to apologize if he has made any mistakes.

Signatures

Alicia López de los Mozos, one of the three members of the panel that allegedly heard and graded Cifuentes’ final thesis with a 7.5 on 10, on Thursday told the internal investigative committee that she does not recognize the documentary record of that event, dated July 2, 2012, or her own signature on it, several sources have told EL PAÍS.

The other two members, Clara Souto and Cecilia Rosado – who unlike López de los Mozos are not tenured – failed to appear before the committee alleging health issues, university sources said.

No-confidence motion

Cifuentes herself is taking the recent developments as “good news,” because she wants the courts to clear up what happened. She said that it was the university that sent the document whose authenticity is now being questioned.

“I have no intention of resigning,” she added.

In the meantime, the Socialist Party (PSOE) has filed a no-confidence motion against the Popular Party (PP) leader with support from the leftist Podemos. Socialist sources said the situation has become “unsustainable.”

“We are facing an institutional crisis that requires firm action and resolve,” says the text of the motion, signed by the 37 PSOE deputies in the regional assembly.

The motion, however, is not garnering support from Ciudadanos, whose backing is pivotal to Cifuentes’ minority government. For now, Albert Rivera’s party is asking for a parliamentary committee to investigate the case.

English version by Susana Urra.

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